Queen Victoria

Biography of Victoria of Kent and Saxe-Coburg who reigned in Great Britain and throughout the United Kingdom, for more than 63 years, from 1837 to 1901.

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The time of her reign is known as the Victorian era. It was a period of great industrial, cultural, political and scientific changes.

During the life of Queen Victoria, the British Empire underwent a remarkable expansion.

Childhood and family of Queen Victoria

Due to great economic problems, Victoria’s parents, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and the German Princess Victoria of Saxony and Coburg, had to leave England. They went to Germany.

Shortly before Victoria was born, on April 24, 1819, some friends of the Duke of Kent managed to raise enough money for the family to return to England, and settle in Kensington Palace.

Kensington
Kensington Palace is one of the most pleasant visits in London. Credit: Wikipedia

Kensington Palace is a fairly simple building, built 320 years ago and set amidst gardens in the Kensington area, at the end of the famous Hyde Park.

There, in London, in Kensington Palace, the future Queen Victoria was born just one month after her parents returned to England, on May 24, 1819.

The Archbishop of Canterbury baptized Victoria at Kensington Palace on June 24 of the same year 1819.

One of her godparents was Bez Alexander I of Russia.

The future queen was baptized with the names of Alejandrina Victoria, in honor of biz Alexander I and her mother.

Edward Duke of Kent, Victoria’s father died in 1820. The future queen was barely one¬†year old and was under the supervision of her mother.

Victoria’s childhood was quite sad, her mother was overly protective, keeping her very isolated and away from other children her age.

Victoria had to abide by a rigid set of rules and protocols drawn up by the Duchess and her ambitious and domineering butler, Sir John Conroy.

Victoria shared a room with her mother, studied with private tutors, according to a strictly regulated schedule; and she spent her leisure hours playing with her dolls and her dog. In addition to the English that was spoken in the palace, she learned German, French, Italian and Latin.

In 1830, when her grandfather, King George IV died, Victoria became the heir to her uncle William IV.

Young Queen Victoria
Victoria in her youth. Credit: Wikipedia. Author: Franz Xaver Winter Halter

Victoria’s mother arranged frequent trips across the country for Victoria. The young princess was received with great enthusiasm in the villages she visited.

Young Victoria during the early 1830s

Leopold, brother of Duchess Victoria of Saxony and Coburg, was crowned King of Belgium in 1831.

The brother of Leopold and the Duchess, Duke Ernesto I of Sajonia-Coburgo, had a son named Alberto.

Victoria’s mother and the two uncles began to make plans to marry the two young men: Victoria and Alberto.

But, the king Guillermo IV did not approve the union of the members of his family with the Sajonia-Coburg; and he preferred that his niece marry Prince Alexander of the Netherlands.

Young Victoria was extremely intelligent, knew of the existence of these plans and gave her always unfavorable opinion about the princes who were presenting her.

In her heart of hearts, Victoria always preferred Alberto’s company. Everything about him seemed beautiful to her: the hair, the big blue eyes, the pretty nose, a very sweet mouth, nice teeth, a pleasant expression, and his sharp intelligence.

Instead, Victoria found Alejandro to be a rather simple-minded young man.

Despite being very interested in Alberto, Victoria knew that she was not yet ready to marry at 17 years old.

Victoria received the news of her accession to the throne

On June 20, 1837, William IV died at the age of 72. Victoria had just turned 18 on May 24.

When she woke up at six o’clock that morning, she was announced that she had become queen of the “United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

Victoria recent queen
Victoria receives the news that she is queen. Credit: Wkipedia. Henry Tanworth Wells and Arthur Christopher Benson.

Official documents from her first day of reign referred to her as Alejandrina Victoria. But, she immediately ordered her first name withdrawn; it was never used again. From that day on she was simplyQueen Victoria.”

Her coronation took place on June 28, 1838; and Victoria became the first sovereign to reside at Buckingham Palace.

From the beginning, Prime Minister William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, had a powerful influence on the inexperienced sovereign, who came to him constantly for advice and help.

Queen Victoria
In the beginning, Queen Victoria was very popular. Credit: La Vanguardia newspaper. Empar Revert article

Melbourne was a Whig party statesman who served as UK Home Secretary from 1830-1834 and as Prime Minister from 1835-1841.

Melbourne was a widower and had no children. He had great affection for the young queen. In turn, Victoria saw him as a father figure. He was her mentor and brought her up to date on the political issues of the kingdom.

Melbourne
William Lamb, Viscount of Melbourne (1779-1848), commonly known as Lord Melbourne. Credit: Wikipedia

Melbourne did not have to deal with great wars abroad, did not have major domestic achievements, and did not formulate great principles. But he was a good man and an honest politician.

Victoria’s marriage to Albert of Saxony

Despite being queen, Victoria continued to live with her mother, with whom she did not get along, due to the rigid rules prevailing in the castle and her dependence on the tutor Conroy.

Her mother lived at Buckingham Palace, in remote rooms; many times, Victoria refused to see her.

When the queen complained to Melbourne that her mother’s proximity bothered her, the minister told her that this could be avoided with a wedding.

Victoria and Alberto
Victoria was totally in love and was 20 years old. Credit: XL Semanal, Creator: Roger Fenton. Extracted from the photos of IPTC.

Alberto and Victoria liked each other; On October 15, 1839, the queen proposed to him.

Victoria married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxony, on February 10, 1840, in the Royal Chapel of St. James’s Palace in London.

They had nine children and 42 grandchildren. They all married other members of the royalty or the nobility of Europe.

One of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters was Victoria Eugenia de Battenberg, who married King Alfonso XIII of Spain.

One of Victoria’s sons, Leopoldo, was Victoria’s first descendant to suffer from hemophilia. This disease appeared in several of the queen’s descendants.

Prince Albert became the most important political adviser, and replaced Lord Melbourne as an influential figure in public life.

Victoria’s mother had to leave the palace and went to live in Belgrave Square.

Lord Melbourne resigned in 1841, and the queen asked Robert Peel to form a government.

Robert Peel
Robert Peel was one of the rising stars of the Tory party. Credit: Wikipedia

Robert Peel belonged to a wealthy family of the bourgeoisie. His father was a Member of Parliament and one of the richest textile manufacturers of the first Industrial Revolution in England.

On June 10, 1840, shortly after the wedding and with Victoria pregnant with her first daughter, a young man named Edward Oxford, 18 years old, tried to assassinate her when she was in a carriage accompanied by Prince Albert, on the way to the house of the mother.

Following the incident, Victoria’s popularity increased. In the following years, Queen Victoria suffered four assassination attempts on the street. All four attempts were frustrated, although in 1850 the queen was injured by a flare.

The queen hated being pregnant, thought breastfeeding was gross, and believed that newborns were ugly, yet she had eight more children with Prince Albert.

Family Queen Victoria
Family of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Credit: BBC News Mundo, from January 12, 2013

Queen Victoria’s household was ruled by her childhood governess, Baroness Louise Lehzen. Consequently, the rigid rules of conduct remained in force in the palace.

Happily, Prince Albert believed that Louise Lehzen was a bad influence on her daughter and after an argument with Victoria, the governess was retired.

Famine in Ireland 1845 to 1850

In the year 1845, Ireland was hit by the devastation of potato crops; in four years, the famine claimed the lives of a million Irish.

Another effect of the famine was the emigration of another million Irish, mainly to the United States.

At that time, the government of Prime Minister Robert Peel was involved in a crisis and had to resign in 1846. He was replaced by Lord John Russell.

At the most dangerous moment of the revolutionary wave in the United Kingdom, in April 1848, Victoria and her family exchanged London for the safety of private property on the Isle of Wight that the queen had bought in 1845.

The queen’s first visit to Ireland in 1849 was a success, but it had no lasting impact in preventing the rise of Irish nationalism.

Victoria’s reign between 1848 and 1960

Internationally, Victoria focused on improving relations between France and the United Kingdom.

Louis Philippe of France was deposed by the revolution of 1848 and during his exile he found refuge in England.

In 1853, Victoria had given birth to her eighth child, Leopoldo, with the help of a new anesthetic, chloroform. She was so impressed with the relief that she used it again in 1857 at the delivery of her last daughter, Beatriz.

Many members of the clergy opposed the use of chloroform, arguing that it went against the teachings of the Bible. Also some prominent doctors considered it a very dangerous drug.

Between 1853 and 1856, the Russian Empire waged a war against a league made up of the Ottoman Empire, France, the United Kingdom, and the Kingdom of Sardinia.

The fight was fought mainly in the Crimean peninsula, around the Sevastopol naval base. It ended with the defeat of Russia.

However, the UK government was criticized for the misuse of British troops during the Crimean War.

During the course of that war, the performance of Florence Nightingale, a British nurse, had great relevance.

Since the Crimean War, Napoleon III had become Britain’s greatest ally; visited London in April 1855; and in August of that same year, Victoria and Alberto returned the visit. They were the guests of honor at a ball with 1,200 guests at the Palace of Versailles.

Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter marries

In 1858, Victoria’s eldest daughter married Prince Frederick of Prussia at the age of 17 in London.

They had been engaged since 1855, when the royal princess was only 14 years old. The Queen and Prince Albert hoped that their daughter and son-in-law would contribute to the liberalization of the Prussian kingdom.

Almost a year later, the princess gave birth to Queen Victoria’s first grandson, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

Queen’s mother and Prince Albert die

In March 1861, Queen Victoria’s mother passed away.

In early December of that year, Prince Albert fell ill with typhoid fever. He died on December 14, 1861.

The loss of her beloved Albert left Queen Victoria devastated. Since that disastrous day, she has been in permanent mourning, used black in her dresses and avoided public appearances.

She routinely carried out her official duties, was not actively involved in government, and hardly ever left her mansion on the Isle of Wight.

She was just 42 years old, but her life was completely cut short.

Victoria’s reign in the 1860s

In 1866, Victoria was present at the first session of Parliament for the first time since Albert died in 1861.

In 1867, the parliament approved the “Act of Reforms” which was supported by the queen. The number of voters was doubled and the right to vote was extended to various urban workers, but not to women.

Two of its prime ministers have gone down in history as great statesmen: Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.

Queen Victoria in the 1870s and 1880s.

During those years, due to the isolation of the queen and the influence of France, republican sentiment in the United Kingdom reached the extreme of demanding the abdication of Queen Victoria.

In late November 1871, her son Edward, Prince of Wales contracted typhoid fever, the same disease that had killed Prince Albert.

Fortunately, Eduardo survived. This near miracle was celebrated with a great thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral on February 27, 1872.

Popular joy did not prevent an exalted young man from pointing a pistol without bullets at Queen Vitoria, who was riding in an open carriage.

On May 1, 1876, Parliament passed the law conferring on Queen Victoria the title of “Empress of India.”

By order of the queen, a law was published guaranteeing religious freedom throughout India.

In those years, the expansion of the British Empire was based on warlike conflicts with Russia, the Zulus in southern Africa and Afghanistan.

On December 14, 1878, the 17th anniversary of the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s second daughter, Princess Alice, died of diphtheria.

On March 2, 1882, Roderick Maclean, a renowned poet who was offended that Victoria had refused to read one of her poems, shot the queen as her carriage was leaving Windsor train station.

Queen Victoria 1882
Queen Victoria in 1882 wears her little diamond crown. Credit: Wikipedia. Photograph by Alexander Bassano

On March 17, 1883 Victoria fell down the stairs at Windsor Palace, causing her to be in a wheelchair until July. She never fully recovered from the fall.

Her faithful servant, John Brown, died days after the accident. Queen Victoria began to write a biography of her rumored lover, the manuscript destroyed on the advice of her Prime Minister.

The following year, another dire news came to further cloud Queen Victoria’s melancholy: her young son, Leopold, had died in Cannes, a victim of hemophilia.

Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee

On June 20, 1887, the United Kingdom celebrated Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the fiftieth anniversary of her accession to the throne.

At the mass of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, a grandiose parade followed. 50 European kings and princes were invited to the banquet.

Three days later, on June 23, the queen hired two Muslim Indians to be her servants.

One of them, Abdul Karim, taught the queen Hindi Urdu and became her scribe, served the queen until her death, then returned to India with a pension for life.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

In the year 1897, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was celebrated. The secretary of colonies, Joseph Chamberlain, proposed that the jubilee be a festival throughout the British Empire.

Death of Queen Victoria and succession

Following a custom that she maintained throughout her widowhood, Victoria spent Christmas in 1900 at Osborne House – which Prince Albert had designed – on the Isle of Wight.

The rheumatism of her legs prevented her from walking and her vision was severely affected by the cataracts.

She died there, due to the weakening of her health, on January 22, 1901, at the age of 81. On her deathbed she was accompanied by her son and future king, Edward, and by her eldest grandson, the German Emperor Wilhelm II.

On January 25, King Edward, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Prince Arthur helped carry the coffin.

Her funeral was held on Saturday, February 2, 1901, in Windsor Castle’s St George’s Chapel. After two days of wakefulness, she was buried next to Albert in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, in the great park of Windsor.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation

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